What Is The History of Corset Training?
By definition, a corset is a tight-fitting garment which has been stiffened by various means in order to shape a woman's torso according to the fashionable silhouette of the times. Before the 19th century, corsets were simply called either a 'pair of bodies', stays, or a stiff bodice. In some 18th century texts, you will find the term corset as reference to a lightly stiffened bodice with tie-on sleeves, and proper stays are called corps.
Renaissance and Baroque Eras
The origins of the corset are somewhat unknown with exception to the well-preserved corsets made of iron and shaped liked cages from the early 16th century. Depictions of stiffened bodices show in portraits of Venetian ladies with stiffened bodices around 1530, as the necklines are relatively high and the chest is pressed flat and not pushed up.
Europe, in the early 16th century referred to corsets as “pair of bodies” which pushed the breasts upward and shaped the torso into a slim cylinder due to boning made of horn, buckram or whalebone, and a flat wooden “busk” running down the center.
But by the 17th century, the bodice became a separate garment from the dress, before this the bodice of the dress itself was stiffened. Corsets took on more of a cone-like shape, often made of two separate pieces of boned fabric known as stays, held together in the front with the busk. The last of the 17th century saw women wearing a combination of skirt and jacket, or skirt and robe with the stiff bodice underneath as underwear.
Bodices took on a different form with conical shapes. These garments would press the breast up and together, with tabs over the hips. The tabs would prevent the waistband of the skirt from crawling under the stays or allowing for the waistlines of the stays to dig into the flesh. The stays of this time were elaborately decorated with finely stitched tunnels for boning. They were made of finer fabrics such as silk brocades and finished outwardly with gold trim. The inside of stays typically would look downward sloppy even in the most expensive of stays.
In 1790, dress waists began to wander up higher so stays became slightly shorter. It was at this time when doctors began to warn woman against the harm done by tight-lacing. Tight-lacing was not the trend as of yet, but it started with tightly wrapping babies as well as childrens corsets, to force the still soft skeletons of children into a fashionable shape.
Regency and Victorian Eras
Fashion took the waist back down to its natural place in the 1820's and corsets became popular. In 1828, lacing eyelets with hammered-in metal grommets were invents (before this, it was eyelets stitched into the fabric). The Planchet followed short after and was used to open and close the corset in front without having to unlace it every time. The busk made it possible to change the lacing completely, with both ends of the cord able to thread through the eyelets crosswise and then knotted at the end. At the waist level, one loop is formed on each side and is used to pull the lacing tight. This is the kind of lacing used today. For a brief time, the Napoleonic high “empire waist” looks freed bellies from the confines of waist-constricting stays. Corsets became smaller and closer to modern-day bras.
The famous hourglass silhouette we associate corsets with today evolved around the middle of the century when fashion demanded corsets were the only preferred way to dress. Tailors were still experimenting with unusual and complex patterns and the look was rather plain. Once some patterns caught on in the 1860's then the emphasis switched to making corsets beautiful with the finest fabrics and the creation of elegant lines. The crinoline was being worn and it his anything from the waist down, so the silhouette ideal was not truly in play as of yet.
The 1880's saw the rise of the pear-shaped spoon busk, which bent inwards to compress the stomach region. If laced tightly, it would force the soft flesh and inner organs downwards. Once again, doctors were full of warnings.
Victorian and Edwardian Eras
Fashion soon revived the desire for wasp waists and hourglass silhouettes, and so corsets, now extending below the waist and incorporating steel boning, created that shape. Also during this time new manufacturing technology began mass-producing corsets, which had previously been custom-made to a woman’s measurements.
Abiding by doctors warnings a new shape of corset was created. The corset had a straight-front designed to take pressure away from the stomach area. But fashion did not accept this form and went on to exaggerate it so the busk pressed the belly and hips backwards. This gave the appearance of a hollow-backed posture or what is known as the 'S-line'. This posture was unnatural and made the corset even more harmful, causing damage to the muscle-skeletal system.
This did not last long, with the onset of WWI; fashion permitted the woman to wear elegant dresses without a corset. Tight lacing began to disappear. Elastic inserts were used to give more movement, as post 1910 corsets would reach so far down that they would prevent the wearer from sitting or walking. Progressive designers created a 'war crinoline' with high waist and flared skirts to make even those corsets unnecessary.
1920s to 1950s
Women began to become more interested in sports and with that, they wanted clothes that allowed for a greater freedom of movement. The socially desirable silhouette changed to a thinner, more streamlined figure.
The 1920s saw the straight, waist-less Garconne fashion with only light stiffened hip girdles made of elastic. The idea was to control the bell and hips, but not constrict the waists. The breasts were supported by a bra, and even reduced to give a 'boyish look'. The girdle and bra went on to be the preferred under garments past the 1940's.
A watered-down version of corsets appeared soon after in Dior fashion designs but was short-lived when women preferred the elastic girdles, and then the 1960's brought a whole new hippie flower-power ideals of fashion. Along with that came the 60's mod-style with the short skirts and girlish figure and then quickly after it was the hippie movement which dramatically turned fashion to embrace more natural body shapes.
It is fair to say, that throughout time corsets most likely did remain worn for erotic purposes, even if they disappeared from trendy fashions.
Moving into modern-day
The punk movement of the 1970's brought corsets back again as a garment to be worn as outerwear. In their quest to be shocking, punks started wearing old-fashioned lingerie as outerwear. Trendy designers like Vivienne Westwood and Jean Paul Gaultier were fast put this brazenly sexy fashion look, drawn from the bondage porn of early decades, on the runway. Not soon after, leading right into the ’80s, were super pop stars like Cyndi Lauper and Madonna flaunting the corset ideals to mainstream America. Madonna wore a tight bodice during her flight to stardom, bring Gaultier's designs into the public eye and girls fast to mimic here.
And modern day brings celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Jessica Alba to front center stage with the corset waist shaping craze. Once again, corsets have been called out to do their job in trimming the waist, creating beautiful silhouettes, visual fashion statements and empowering the woman who dares to wear one.